Turkey expected support from the international community to enable the return of displaced refugees to Syria, a move that is crucial for long-lasting stability in the war-torn country
In order to establish long-lasting stability and normalization in Syria, the return of displaced Syrians to their hometowns is just as important as the fight against terrorism, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Tuesday, adding that the only approach to solving the refugee crisis should not be keeping refugees in Turkey. “It is out of the question to discuss the right of refugees to return to their hometowns that they were forced to leave. In order to preserve long-lasting stability and normalization in Syria, the return is as crucial as the fight against terrorism,” Erdoğan stated during a speech at the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva. The forum, which started on Monday and will run for three days, features a series of sessions and events as well as speakers from around the world who are experts on the issue. It is organized by the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR in Geneva and Switzerland with the aim of generating new approaches and commitments from a variety of actors to assist and respond to refugee needs more effectively. Being conducted for the first time with the participation of representatives from several countries, U.N. agencies, nongovernmental organizations and many other international actors, the forum, in its words, "comes at the end of a tumultuous decade," which has been marked by various refugee crises.
“The responsibility is on other countries’ shoulders to share this burden (of refugees) that Turkey has been carrying for nine years,” the president further said, underlining that formulas that would enable Syrians to return to Syria should be considered. No support for Turkey from West Expressing that there have been many talks with various world leaders on this issue, Erdoğan said despite all of Turkey’s offers, the international community is reluctant to show any support for the return of the Syrians.
“For instance,” the president said, “when I say let’s form a safe zone in northern Syria, they all say ‘how nice.’ Because there is a terror corridor there. However, when we say that the projects are ready and the only thing we need is their support, the countries, the ones with the most money, only smile at us.” Turkey has long been fighting to eradicate the presence of terrorist groups in northern Syria, conducting three cross-border operations there – Operation Olive Branch, Euphrates Shield and most recently Peace Spring. Following the liberation of areas in northern Syria, efforts to clear bombs and improvised explosive devices were launched, and administration duties were given to local councils. According to U.N. figures, 60% of the people displaced due to the war have returned to their homes in the areas where Operation Peace Spring took place. According to the safe zone plan, 140 villages and 10 district centers will be established within the 30- to 40-kilometer deep safe zone in northern Syria, housing 5,000 and 30,000 inhabitants, respectively. The settlements will be provided with various facilities so the people living there will be able to have a normal life with every necessity met. By establishing a safe zone in northern Syria, Turkey hopes to resettle displaced Syrians currently living in the country and get rid of the PKK and its Syrian affiliate, YPG terrorists, in the region. The world is a big village Saying that Turkey is the number one country in the world when it comes to the percentage of humanitarian aid to national income, Erdoğan said currently, no country has the luxury to approach the refugee issue from the perspective of geographical proximity. “We have been providing humanitarian aid to displaced Syrians within Syria regularly. We are giving special priority to the determination of the refugees in vulnerable conditions and their protection,” Erdoğan said. Currently, there are a total of 271.6 million migrants in the world, a trend that has continually increased since the early 2000s. The countries with the largest migrant communities are the U.S., with 50.7 million, followed by Germany and Saudi Arabia, both with 13.1 million. When it comes to refugees, however, the countries in question differ substantially. Data shows that as of 2019, there are a total of 28.7 million refugees in the world. The largest refugee community is currently in Turkey, with 3.8 million refugees. Turkey is followed by Jordan with 2.9 million refugees and Lebanon with 1.6 million refugees. “In a period when the world has turned into an enormous village and distances have lost meaning, all of our destiny is mutual,” the president highlighted. 371,000 Syrians returned Erdoğan also said thanks to Turkey’s efforts in northern Syria to liberalize the region from terrorist elements, so far 371,000 Syrians returned to their hometowns voluntarily. “If we would be able to make the project that I’ve mentioned before real, I believe that this number will reach 1 million,” he said. According to the president, most Western countries approach the migration issue as a security problem with a perspective based on interests alone. “A flawed idea like barrel bombs will be able to secure Europe from the refugee flows have been promoted. We even witnessed shameful suggestions such as sinking the refugee boats in the Mediterranean and they did really sink the boats and buried those people in the waters,” Erdoğan said. He indicated that in the last seven years, 20,000 people, most of whom were women and children, have been killed in the Mediterranean. The records of the past decade show that the Western world seems to be only interested in preventing refugee flows instead of coming up with solutions for the refugee problems as well as providing assistance to refugee-hosting countries. Germany is the country in the forefront in the Western world when it comes to hosting refugees. The country has been hosting 1.4 million refugees with numbers increasing since 2015. However, apart from Germany, there are not many refugee receiving countries in Europe. For instance, the U.K. has only 162,200 refugees, while the Netherlands has 109,700 refugees and France has taken 400,200. Southern Europe has an even worse record when it comes to refugees, especially since these are the countries that face refugee flows first. Italy hosts 354,700 refugees, while Spain hosts only 52,400 and Greece hosts 83,100. Some of these countries are also known for their brutal treatment of refugees, including beating them, forcing them to return and leaving them without food and shelter. Countries like Italy, Hungary and Austria are specifically known for having anti-refugee governments. In 2019, Italy and Malta saw new levels of refugee discrimination by refusing to assist refugees stuck in their maritime borders, leaving them stranded on rescue boats. The president stated a sustainable solution for the refugee crisis may be the resettlement of refugees to third countries and yet, the international community has not reached the desired level on this issue either. He expressed that resettlement quotas of refugees in vulnerable conditions are quite low. “One of the primary problems that refugees face in recent years is rising xenophobia and anti-refugee remarks,” Erdoğan said, adding that it is shameful to play politics with the pain of people who have lost everything. ‘Refugees are human beings’ Erdoğan underscored that Turkey has been providing the same opportunities offered to Turkish citizens to refugees as well. “We could not have closed our doors to the people who escaped from the barrel bombs. They were human beings,” the president stated. According to U.N. data, the number of migrants in Turkey, which has been seeing major refugee flows since the early 2010s, makes up 7% of the country's total population. Following an open-door policy since the start of the civil war in the neighboring country of Syria, where most of the refugees come from, Turkey has spent nearly $40 billion on the refugee community specifically, while it has only received about 6 billion euros ($6.69 billion) of support from the international community. Some “685,000 of 1 million Syrian children at the school-going age are being provided with the opportunity of schooling. In five years, the schooling level of the Syrian children rose from 30% to 63%. We have enabled 34,000 Syrians to receive undergraduate and graduate education. When the percentage of the refugees to receive graduate education in the world is 1%, in Turkey, this percentage is 6%,” Erdoğan expressed, adding that so far 21,300 Syrian have received graduate school and Turkish language training scholarships. Integration crucial for self-sufficiency Stressing that Syrians have been able to receive education in the same classrooms as Turkish children, Erdoğan said that efforts have been accelerated to enable Syrians to be self-sufficient in Turkey. “In places where there are many Syrians, we have built refugee health centers. In these centers, there are 678 Syrian doctors and 954 Syrian midwives and nurses working. In the last eight years, 516,000 Syrian babies were born in our country. We have given these babies every type of health service,” the president said. Turkish officials have put forward humanitarian efforts to meet the basic needs of refugees by offering them various forms of assistance and helping coordinate international aid. Modern camps provide refugees access to all basic services, from education to vocational training courses. The president further highlighted that in order to enable Syrians to integrate into society, social and cultural activities have been organized that enable Turkish and Syrian communities to come together. “We have provided a legal basis for Syrians to receive work permits. We have reduced the fees if for employers who employ Syrians in order to encourage the employment of Syrians,” Erdoğan said. Meanwhile, Erdoğan met with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday.